28 May 2014

His name was changed at Ellis Island!

I have found a name change on an Ellis Island manifest. Yes, I know I have written about how names were definitely not changed at Ellis Island. I have spoken to groups and explained why name changes could not have occurred at Ellis Island.[1] So, what can we make of these two associated emigration records?

My grandmother's first cousin, David, traveled from Hamburg and arrived in New York in 1907 as "Duvid Wenkert." This is a portion of the manifest developed in Hamburg by the shipping line. The red arrow points to his name on the image.

"Hamburger Passengierlisten, 1850-1934," digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 May 2014), manifest, S.S. Amerika, Hamburg to New York, departing 31 October 1907, line 1111, David Wenkert (image 267 of 286); citing Staatsarchiv Hamburg; Hamburg, Deutschland; Hamburger Passagierlisten; Volume: 373-7 I, VIII A 1 Band 195; Page: 2829; Microfilm No.: K_1802.

Name detail from Hamburg manifest
Prior to his voyage to New York, Duvid Wenkert, 17, had been living in Uscieczko, Galicia, Austrian Empire (today, Ustechko, Ukraine).

Town detail from Hamburg manifest

The first page of his Ellis Island manifest, however, is a bit different. The red arrow points to the location for the same passenger.
"New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957," digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 5 September 2009), manifest, Amerika, Hamburg to New York, arriving 10 November 1907, list 37, line 8, Duvid Ett, citing National Archives Microfilm Serial T715.

Name detail from Ellis Island manifest

The names before and after this entry were the same on both the Hamburg and the Ellis Island manifests: Adam...Markus...Abram...David...Peter. This is definitely the entry for the same passenger, also from Uscieczko, on the Hamburg list.

Town and closest relative detail from Ellis Island manifest
In the name column a surname starting with the letter W had been obscured and "Ett" written in its place. The previously written first name was also blocked out and "Duvid" was written in its place. 

Marian L. Smith from United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) prepared (along with Elise Friedman, Flora Gursky, and Eleanor Bien) a JewishGen InfoFile regarding the meanings of markings one may find on manifest records: "Manifest Markings: A Guide to Interpreting Passenger List Annotations."[2] 

Under the section heading "In the Name Column..." Smith provides clues regarding the possible meanings of markings found in the manifest column where passenger names are located. Names may have been clarified by a steamship company clerk prior to departure (in this case, unlikely, since the Hamburg manifest was not also changed); by a ship's purser while the ship was at sea, or by an immigration inspector at Ellis Island. It seems that usually this kind of change resulted in a line through the original name and alternative names or spellings written above or next to the original name. I have found this with, for example, a manifest page with Raya and Leja Grinfeld, a detail of which is shown, below.[3] 

Detail from Raya and Leja Grinfeld manifest

The complete blacking out of the name in Duvid Wenkert's case, does not seem to track with this explanation.

Smith goes on to explain more deliberate name changes (as this one seems to be). A more official correction could have been effected.  This may have included official paperwork perhaps associated with David's naturalization process.[4] Since David Ett's name did not match the name under which he immigrated, he may have applied for a correction of the passenger list. Once approved, a government clerk would officially correct the record by crossing out the old name and writing in the new one.

Of particular interest is the code written above his name on the Ellis Island manifest: VL 151 Leg 223291. According to Smith, the VL stands for "verification of landing." This could have been done if David had requested proof of legal admission to the United States. Unfortunately, the files created during this verification no longer survive. 

But it is interesting, knowing David Ett's military record and convoluted path to citizenship, to consider why and when such verification may have occurred. In summary, he first declared his intent to naturalize on 17 September 1912.[5] Based on his World War I military service (aborted by the federal government because he was from Austria - an ally of Germany), he applied for expedited citizenship on 16 December 1927.[6] That petition was rejected since he had been deemed an enemy alien and removed from military service. On 18 July 1939, he was finally granted citizenship.[7] So, David's landing record may have been verified during his several attempts at naturalization, or associated with his aborted military service.

In a typical naturalization procedure for those who'd arrived after 1906, the information David provided in his declaration of intention (first papers) would have been checked against his manifest stored at his port of entry - Ellis Island.  

We do know from another marking on his manifest (near the occupation column) that his manifest was checked in both 1936 and 1938. 

These checks were associated with his 1939 petition. According to the Smith's Manifest Markings section "In the occupation column," the number starting with 2 would indicate that the processing office had been in New York City. 

The 6-17-36 (corrected from 6-16-36) corresponds to the date his Certificate of Arrival was issued.

But also note that his name on the Certificate of Arrival is shown as Duvid Ett. So, the V.L. check and the complete blacking out of his name occurred before the Certificate of Arrival was issued.

David Ett's 1939 petition does indicate a change of name from Wenkert to Ett. 

Detail from David Ett's Petition for Naturalization [7]

I do not know if additional paperwork may exist in his C-File at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (something I may have to check).

It is also interesting to consider why David arrived as Duvid Wenkert in the first place. Names on manifests reflect the name given when steamship companies sold their tickets for a voyage.[8] On column 15 of his Ellis Island manifest, David indicated that he'd purchased his ticket himself. 

The Austro-Hungarian Empire, at the time David was born, required that marriages be registered with civil authorities. If religious marriages were not registered with the civil authorities, children born of those unions would be considered illegitimate and children's surnames would, for official purposes, be that of their mothers.[9]  

The second page of the Ellis Island record indicates that David had been born in Tluste (now Tovste, Ukraine). While we do not have birth records from Tluste, I do have a birth record for David's younger sister, Jutte in 1894 in Skole. That record indicates that Jutte's parents were married only in a religious (not a civil) ceremony. Her mother was Perl Wenkert and her father Leib Heth [Ett].[10]

Perl Wenkert Ett died in 1895 in Skole. Her husband's name on her death record was Hersch Leib Ett.[11] On the Ellis Island manifest, David's father is identified as Leib Wenkert of Uscieczko. It appears that on the manifest, Leib was given the surname that matched his son's. Wenkert was, in fact, his wife's maiden name.

So, David Ett's name was likely changed at Ellis Island. Exactly when he changed his name from his mother's surname to his father's, is a good question. Based upon what we know about the procedures of processing immigrants as they arrived at Ellis Island, it is unlikely that his manifest record was altered from Wenkert to Ett at that time. But, it was definitely changed, in an unequivocal fashion, sometime later.

1. Vincent Cannato and Marian L. Smith state a strong cases for this conclusion. Vincent J. Cannato, American Passage: The History of Ellis Island, (New York: Harper, 2010), pp.402-403. Marian L. Smith, "American names: declaring independence," Immigration Daily, ILW.com (http://www.ilw.com/articles/2005,0808-smith.shtm : accessed 28 May 2014).
2. Marian L. Smith with the assistance of Elise Friedman, Flora Gursky, and Eleanor Bien, "Manifest Markings: A Guide to Interpreting Passenger List Annotations," JewishGen.org (http://www.jewishgen.org/InfoFiles/Manifests/ : accessed 28 May 2014).
3. "New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957," digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 30 June 2012), manifest, George Washington, Bremen to New York, arriving 5 December 1921, list 8, Raya and Leja Grinfeld, citing National Archives Microfilm Serial T715.
4. Marian L. Smith with the assistance of Elise Friedman, Flora Gursky, and Eleanor Bien, "Manifest Markings: A Guide to Interpreting Passenger List Annotations," JewishGen.org.
5. Kings County, New York, Kings County Supreme Court, digital images, FamilySearch.org (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 19 August 2013), Declaration of Intent, number 27049, vol. 55, page 49, David Ett, 17 September 1912.   
6. "New York, Naturalization Records, 1882-1944," database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 July 2009), Petition for Naturalization for David Ett, 16 December 1927, New York, citing United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, National Archives and records Administration Series M1972, Roll 551.
7. U. S. District Court of the Eastern District of New York, Petition for Naturalization number 259528, David Ett, 18 July 1939.
8.  Marian L. Smith, "American names: declaring independence," Immigration Daily, ILW.com.
9. Wynne, Suzan F. The Galitzianers: The Jews of Galicia, 1772-1918, Wheatmark: 2006, p. 59.
10. Stanislawow Wojewodztwa, Skole, Birth Record for Jutte Ett, 21 January 1894;  "Jewish Metrical Books, Town of Skole Deaths 1878-80 & 1883-1903," Fond 300, Sygnatura 1149, Akta 6, Archiwum Giowne Akt Dawnych (Central Archives of Historical Records), Warsaw, Poland.
11. Stanislawow Wojewodztwa, Skole, Death Record for Perl Wenkart Ett, 17 August 1895; "Jewish Metrical Books, Town of Skole Deaths 1889-1895," Fond 300, Year 1895, Sygnatura 1871, Akta 47, Archiwum Giowne Akt Dawnych (Central Archives of Historical Records), Warsaw, Poland.


  1. Excellent post Emily. I was led to your post from Randy's mention of your blog in Genea-Musings Best of. I always enjoy finding blogs that I haven't seen or read before.
    Diane @www.michiganfamilytrails.com

    1. Thank you, Diane. I have some interest in relatives from Michigan. i will be perusing your blog, as well.


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